I recently received this email from a reader of The Cornerstone book: “I purchased your ebook today and am really enjoying reading it. I have one question…much of the book so far concentrates on establishing procedures and routines at the beginning of the year. Do you have any suggestions for implementing your program now that we have already been in session for 4 months? How can you effectively help your students transition into this new routine without spending TOO much time introducing and reinforcing?”
I thought this was a great question worthy of it’s own blog post, because many teachers are wondering about this issue in the middle of the year. Plus, it gives me a chance to repeat one of my favorite mottos:
It’s NEVER too late to change something that’s not working. You don’t have to wait for next year and an entirely new group of kids. You can–and should–modify your procedures, expectations, and teaching strategies ANY time they are not effective, at ANY time during the school year.
Don’t worry that making changes to the way you run your classroom will confuse the kids or cause them to question your authority and expertise. The key is to articulate to students what’s not working and how you plan to fix it. Tell the class your observations about the problem and share your solution.
First do some brainstorming about what you’d like to change and how you’d like things to run. Then have a conversation with your class about it. Don’t try to sneak in a new procedure and act like that’s the way you wanted things done all along. (Yeah, I’ve tried that. They weren’t fooled.) Just level with the kids.
There are two approaches you can take to the conversation. The first involves a 5-10 minute discussion with the class, the second takes less than 2 minutes.
I use the more in-depth method for big stuff, like changes to the homework routine, centers and small group rotations, or the class reward/reinforcement system. If it’s something that the kids really care about and that you’ve spent a lot of time training them to do and getting their buy-in, then it’s worth taking the time to involve them in creating new expectations.
For big or important changes, you could tell them:
I’ve been thinking about how we manage __ in our class. I’ve noticed a problem with ___. Have any of you noticed this happening? Why do you think this might be a problem? I’ve been trying to think of good solutions. What are your ideas for fixing this problem? That gives me an idea…you’ve touched on something I was considering over the weekend. What if we tried ___? It would work like this: ___. Would you be willing to try that out for a week or so? Let’s practice it, and then we’ll have another conversation soon to talk about how it’s working. We can always make changes then. Thanks for working together to come up with solutions. I know that our class is going to run more smoothly now that we’ve had this conversation and decided to try something new.
For minor classroom procedures–getting drinks from the water fountain, passing in papers, pencil sharpening, etc.–I don’t spend that much time, because the kids don’t care as much. I’ll just say:
I noticed that our procedure for ___ isn’t working very well these days. Sometimes I see ___ happening and ___ not happening, and that causes a problem with ___. So I’d like to try this instead: ___. Does that makes sense to you? Let’s practice right now. Team One, can you model how to follow this new procedure for us? Everyone, let’s watch Team One as they try this out.
If needed, I’ll narrate what I see and provide feedback.
Here’s an example. Once during my second year of teaching, I became completely fed up with students writing down the wrong page numbers for homework or forgetting to copy all of their assignments. I considered lecturing them. I considered punishing them. And I considered revising my homework routine. I realized I wasn’t really setting students up for success, and came up with some ways to improve the system. The next day I told the class:
I’ve noticed that many people are copying their homework assignments incorrectly. I want to change the way the assignments are displayed and copied in order to help you. From now on, the list of assignments will be on this poster, instead of on the transparency, so even if you come late to class, you can see what needs to be done. I will also be giving you five minutes instead of three to write everything down and have a partner check over what you wrote. Here’s how that’s going to work.
I modeled exactly what I wanted, and guided the kids through it. And instead of having 5 kids miscopy their assignments each day, I started having 1 or 2.
One last really common scenario I want to address, which is when kids seem to be forgetting procedures and getting sloppy with them. You know what I’m talking about: the supply bins have things missing from them, the coat closet is a disaster area, and the books in the class library are being misused.
There are a few different approaches I’ve used to get the kids back on track:
- Point it out: “Hey, I’m noticing that ___ isn’t going as smoothly as it was at the beginning of the year. Who can remind us what the procedure is for that?”
- Give a verbal reinforcement when kids do things the right way: “You remembered to __! Thanks for taking care of our classroom.”
- Show the kids that I’m paying attention to the way they handle classroom routines and appreciate their efforts by giving a now-that reward: “The entire class did ___ exactly the way we have been practicing! I didn’t have to give a single reminder! Since we didn’t have to stop to wait for people to do the right thing, we’re going to have a few extra minutes before recess. I think I’ll take you outside early. Thanks for being such responsible students.”
If it seems like ALL of our procedures have fallen by the wayside, I have a heart-to-heart with the kids about why the procedures are in place and how we rely on one another to keep the classroom running smoothly. Then I play a procedure review game to go over the expectations and make sure we’re all on the same page. Often I realize I’ve had a bunch of new students transfer in and they’ve never been properly taught our routines. So, I grit my teeth and provide lots of modeling, practice, reinforement narration, and performance feedback.
I’ve found that my attitude has the biggest effect on how smoothly our routines and procedures go. If I’m mentally creating a list of all the things the kids have done wrong, predicting how many ways they’ll screw up next, and bemoaning how poorly they listen and follow directions, I get discouraged and take it out on the class.
When I choose to be patient and take the time to involve kids in creating and practicing expectations, I reconnect with the feeling that we are a team. My thoughts create my feelings, my feelings affect my behaviors…and my behaviors determine whether students feel stressed out or capable of doing their best.
So, that is my advice to you: recognize what’s not working and choose to create change. Be supportive of the kids as they adjust and keep an optimistic attitude about the outcome. Each year you teach, it will get easier to find what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Take the kids along on the journey with you, and learn together.